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Berlina Monthly Tips -- Getting the Heater Fan to Work (May 2007)

My Giulia Super's heater fan stopped working last year, and so I had the opportunity to pull it out and repair it. The fundamental design problem, other than that motors and electrical stuff can just wear out, is that the heater fan sits in a bowl in the bottom of the heater box, and any water that leaks into the heater box drains to the bowl, and the bottom bushing of the fan motor remains submerged, corroding and eventually seizing. You can tell the fan is seized by reaching into the fan box and trying to turn the fan with your fingers. If it doesn't spin easily, it's too tight.

You have to pull the whole heater box out to repair or replace the fan. Here's how. First, remove carpets and other trim as much as you can so they don't get soiled by any water, leaves, etc., that might spill.

Get access to the heater box. In an early Super or TI, you don't have to remove the dash, but in a Berlina or late Super you must remove the console. Drain and block off the heater hoses, drop down the heater control panel, remove the under-dash parking brake handle, disconnect and mark any wires, including the heater fan wires, lighter any others in the way. If you have AC, good luck.

On a Super, remove the lower dash trim and ashtray to give more access. Remove the defroster hoses, and disconnect the heater control valve cable. Reach way up with a " drive ratchet and long extension and u-joint socket and remove the four 8mm nuts that hold the heater to the underside of the cowl. On a Super, there is a support strut from one nut to bottom edge of the dash that needs to be moved too. On my Super, the heater just barely fit out the driver's side once the parking brake handle was out of the way. On a TI, it ought to clear easily, with the TI's higher dash bottom. On a Berlina, I think it will clear once the console is out, but have not done it with the dash in place.

With the heater unit on the bench, clean it, and open it up. It's pretty obvious how it comes apart with spring clips, but watch out for internal baffles that fit only a certain way, and don't tweak the shutter and water valve controls. If in doubt, take pictures or make a diagram first. You'll probably want to replace the internal hoses while you're in there, and the heater valve unit (Berlina) or bladder (Giulia) at this time.

The fan unit sits in the bottom of the heater box, its motor held by two tangs in rubber mounts that press into matching fittings in the heater box bottom. Wiggle the fan unit up and out. There are at least three makes of heater fan, but mine, a Ducellier, came apart with two small through-screws. Watch out for spacers in the magnet halves. The bottom bushing had a tiny C-clip on the shaft that I had to remove, then the whole bottom half of the motor pressed off the motor shaft. Mine was very corroded and took some doing to get it apart.

Probably the bottom bushing is corroded. Use some fine emory paper on the motor shaft, and slightly ream the bushing with a tiny file or something if need be. When you have a good fit between the shaft and the bushing, reassemble the motor, greasing the bushings (a bit of wiggling to get the brushes past the commutator), and test it on the bench. If it doesn't work now, the motor itself may be bad. I cleaned and undercut the commutator surface a bit, and mine worked fine.

To avoid this water problem in the future, drill a couple holes in the bottom of the heater box to allow any water from the heater itself, or from leaks from the cowl or windshield, to drain out of the heater box rather than allowing the bottom fan bushing to stay immersed. Reassemble the heater box and reinstall it, making sure you get the baffles fitted properly. Install a new valve or valve bladder if needed. Adjust the heater valve cable so you get it to close fully. Then reassemble everything else and test.

Berlina Monthly Tips -- Solving Giulia Super Reverse Clutch Judder (April 2007)

I have worked at solving my Giulia Super's clutch judder/axle hop problem, common to mechanical-clutch-linkage 105 cars (maybe 101 too). My Super's judder was so bad it was virtually impossible to back up on a hill. My mechanical-clutch Super came with a hydraulic-clutch-type rear transmission mount bushing in it, which is softer than the original mechanic-clutch mount bushing, no longer available from Alfa. Last year, I replaced it with an OKP (German) repro non-urethane mechanical-clutch trans mount. That solved the reverse judder, but apparently due to the hardness of the rubber transmitted so much vibration all the time that I couldn't stand it, and removed it and put in a new hydraulic type; alas, back to square one. Heading in a new direction, I recently made the fix detailed on Jack Chesley's Giulia Super site (http://www.alfaclubdc.com/suprtip3.htm), taken from a 1965 Alfa service bulletin.

My steel trans mount piece already had a 11mm hole in it dead center behind the trans mount boss. So a Super hood bumper, pictured in the bulletin, might fit perfectly, but I didn't have one, plus it would be 40 years old. I found an 80s Cadillac hood bumper piece at the junkyard similar to what's pictured in the bulletin, with 8 x 1.25 mm threads. I had Norman Racing weld in a large area 8mm washer to distribute the load and nut on the inside of the mount, I cut a screwdriver slot in the end of the 8mm stud with a hacksaw for adjustment from the rear of the mount, and installed it with an 8mm locknut on the outside. I adjusted it up so it just made contact with the trans mount boss, plus a half turn of preload, which the bulletin says is OK, but that may depend on what kind of bumper you use, how soft it is, and its overall condition.

So far the results are good. The problem on my car is not totally eliminated, but is 75 percent better. I will mess with the amount of preload over time to see if I can make it a bit better. It transmits a small amount of vibration in specific circumstances, but it's basically fine and I consider the problem solved, unless someone makes true OEM-style mechanical-clutch trans mount bushings that match the softness of the original

The condition of the trans and engine mounts can affect this, so the better condition they're in, probably the less trouble you'll have. But you risk introducing vibration by messing with them if your car is OK as is. Norman Racing thinks converting to cable throttle actuation rather than rod-actuated throttle would help. They think it's a triple-feedback loop with mechanical clutch components, mechanical throttle components, all moving against each other as the engine torques on its relatively soft rubber mounts. The real fix is to convert to hydraulic clutch actuation, which Alfa did in 1969 (along with a throttle cable), but that's a bigger project.

Berlina Monthly Tips -- Removing Side Window Trim (May 2004)

This month's tip is about removing the stainless trim around the door windows on Berlinas and Giulia sedans in preparation for removing the window, or to get the trim out of the way for painting the car or replacing the window seals. The bottom "wiper" window seals, and window channel material, are available from Ranier Hurtienne (www.alfahurtienne.de/) in Germany.

1. Begin at the door pillar end of each window. That is, start at the rear of the front doors; start at the front of the rear doors.

2. With a suitable tool, begin tapping the bottom of the U-shaped "vertical" piece off its flange on the door. Work very slowly and carefully.

3. Work your way up the vertical side, then across the top. There is a fair amount of back and forth and wiggling to get it to come away easily, without bending.

4. Finally, when it's free enough, you can pull the rear/front corner of the U-shaped piece away, freeing up the whole piece to come off.

5. Last, remove the separate base piece. I used a screwdriver to gently pry up, but if you have nice paint you won't want to do that.

6. Installation is the reverse of removal, with similar care and wiggling, especially if you have new paint. Some protective plastic or other guard over the paint below the window opening would be a good idea, as the sharp edges of the stainless trim can scrape the paint easily.

The interior trim comes out in exactly the same way as the outer trim. Mark each piece to ensure you know where to put them back in.

Notes:

* My trim was stainless and pretty resilient. If you have aluminum trim, you'd have to proceed like it was eggshells. I think it would be very hard not to bend.

* The tool I used was a Michelin bicycle tire removal tool, a plastic piece kind of like a bondo spreader, about 1" wide and 4" long. It has an S-shaped end that is perfect for getting in and catching the edge of the trim without mangling it, and without scratching the body edge. I tapped it with a big plastic mallet.

* The trim has a noticeable spring curve to it across the top, especially on the rear doors. This is true on some cars even when installed. I think this spring helps press the U-shaped piece down, locking the bottom piece in. So once you get the piece off, don't be alarmed if it has a gentle curve across the top. Kinks are bad though.

* When first starting, the pillar-end vertical part of the U-shaped piece can be fouled against the base piece. Tap gently up in the corner directly above, which can move the U-shaped piece up just enough so it is freed.

* At least on my 67 Giulia Super, the retention device at the pillar end of the bottom of the U-shaped piece is a tiny slot built into the door flange, with a corresponding dimple stamped into the back side of the stainless trim.

* On the front doors, I found two additional things were required:

1. To get past the vent window hinge, you must undo the two sheet-metal screws on the top side under the door seal, allowing the vent window hinge to come free. You don't have to move it much, and the screws are accessible by pulling up on the door seal.

2. At the front corner, the U-shaped piece wants to move down and get stuck on the base piece. So on these doors, after I freed the rear side completely, I pulled the base piece up and back just a bit to free up the front corner of the U-shaped piece.

* The "wiper" window seals inside and out are fastened to the bottom trim, inside and out, with metric steel staples. Remove the old staples, cut the seal to length, and fasten with suitable size new staples, or perhaps .040" or .080" safety wire. I haven't tackled the window channel material yet, which would involve removing the windows.

Berlina Monthly Tips -- Repairing Windshield Area Rust (August 2003)

One of the most common rust spots on Berlinas, particularly 1971 and later US cars with glued windshields, is around the front windshield, and to a lesser extent, the rear window. Major rust can develop under the glass, glue or gasket, and trim, and spread out to eat away the cowl, fender, and quarter panel area. When doing major bodywork or a full repaint on a Berlina, it is best to remove the front and rear windows to (1) see what condition the metal underneath is in and fix it if needed, and (2) repaint the body right up to the edge of the under-glass area, in an attempt to protect the body and stave off future rust. You'll often find that the rusty windshield area allows rain to leak into the interior, messing up the dashboard and electrical system, rotting the upholstery and carpets, and rusting the floors. So it's worth fixing right.

To work in this area properly, you really should have the glass removed, both for access, and to prevent breaking or scratching the glass. Gasketed glass can be removed by skilled home mechanics by the "crossed rope" method, or by cutting the inner flange of the old gasket with a box cutter, if it's not salvageable, and just pushing the glass out. Glued 1971 and later windshields are much tougher to remove without breaking them, involving chemicals and special cutting tools. In either case, I would not attempt this work at home, but would go to a competent glass shop. Regardless of how the work is done, be gentle with the shiny trim, which is soft and pliable, and takes on a noticeable stress pattern if bent, that remains visible. To give better access in removing the glass, first remove the wiper arms and 22mm hold-down nuts and washers, sun visors, rear-view mirror, A-pillar trim, and anything else that looks like it will be in the way. It's best to remove the hold-down screws for the wiper cowl in the engine compartment, because you'll have to remove it, as it has a flange that is trapped by the windshield. You don't have to remove the dash or headliner. Reinstalling glass afterward is equally tough, especially glued windshields, which really should be done by a knowledgeable shop. At August 2002 California rates, it cost me $500 to have my front and rear glass removed and installed.

Note that 1969 US cars, and all non-US cars, have gasketed front glass with a rubber seal and shiny trim that is the same as on Giulia sedans. 1971 and later US cars have slightly larger glued front glass, which has different trim. These cars also have a black rubber perimeter trim on the inside edge of the windshield opening, that should be removed before the glass, then replaced afterward. Some of the reproduction trim is too thick, fouling the glass. It can be cut in half to fit better. The windshield wiper cowl are is the same on all cars. The smaller gasketed windshield is available from ReOriginals and others (available because it fits the Giulia sedan), as is its rubber gasket (also a Giulia piece). The shiny trim you'll have to scrounge somewhere if yours is not usable. The larger glued windshield for late US cars is no longer available unless you get lucky and find one stashed somewhere. Its shiny trim is not available either. On the rear window, all years use the same gasket, which ReOriginals, Centerline, and others sell. The shiny trim is not available new, and I'm sure the glass isn't either. The rear window and gasket are both different from on the Giulia sedan.

Once you've got the glass out, you can see what the state of your metal is. Often the wiper cowl will be rusty, especially along its upper ridge. This can be repaired off the car. More rust is likely in the channel where the glass fits, front and rear, particularly in the lower corners, where water can become trapped. And often at the front, the whole perimeter of the front glass area will be rusted, sometimes all the way through, around the glue. It can be especially bad across the top and in the lower corners. One theory about this is that Alfa used a water-absorbing glue that held moisture, basically creating a rust trap, right from the factory. Modern glass glues are better in this respect, and probably all other respects too.

The right way to repair these areas is to have the rusty metal cut out and new steel welded in. This is a big project, but worth it if you plan to keep the car. It can involve a lot of exacting metal forming to match the complex contours of the body. So find a good body shop. One thing to note is that the body seams behind the rear glass, running longitudinally toward the front edge of the trunk, should remain visible, and not be welded smooth or filled in. As an example, I had the front windshield perimeter on my otherwise non-rusty Berlina 1973 US Berlina repaired in August 2002. At California labor rates, this part of the job, not including paint or removing and installing the glass, cost $1500. There was a lot of metalwork. There are other, cheaper ways to fix this area include fiberglass repair kits, and the heaviest version of POR-15 filler, which more than one person has told me works well, looks fine when painted, and prevents the area from re-rusting. How far to go in this area is up to you.

Once the body repair is done, you need to figure out whether to paint the whole car, or just the repaired area. With the poor quality of paint matching I have seen, especially on 30-year-old cars, I would not undertake this work unless I planned to paint the whole car. Part of this is inherent in matching paint, part of it is that your car will certainly have faded and so new paint of the same color will be brighter, and part is that paint chemistry has changed a lot since Berlinas were new, and modern paints just don't look the same.

As I say, it's best to paint with the glass removed. If you've removed the cowl, don't forget to have it painted too. Once the paint is dry, go back to the glass shop and have the front and rear windows reinstalled; reinstall the cowl before the windshield goes in. Then finally reassemble the wipers and few interior trim items you removed and you're all done.

Many Alfa restoration processes are interrelated with others. I've limited my discussion here to just the windshield area, but note that if you're going to replace your headliner, to do it right you have to remove the front and rear glass, among other things. So if you have your glass removed for painting or rust repair, it's the ideal time to replace the headliner. I'll cover that process another month.

Berlina Monthly Tips -- Finding a Berlina to Buy (August 2002)

Finding a Berlina to buy can be a tough proposition. Berlinas were sold in relatively large numbers (about 200,000 in all), but I think the vast majority were sold in Europe, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. Relatively few Berlinas have survived in those countries, now 35 years after the model's introduction. Conversely, only a few thousand were imported into the U.S., but the cars seem to have survived better here, for whatever reason. Nonetheless, no matter where you are, finding a Berlina to buy can try your patience. In the U.S., finding a nice one can take a really long time, because most are not in good condition. Be resourceful and diligent. Here are a few places to check for Berlinas for sale, in order of likelihood in finding one.

Alfa Digest. The Alfa Digest, an internet Alfa discussion group, is a good source of all kinds of Alfa-related information, and this is often where cars for sale, particularly in the Western U.S., get mentioned first. To subscribe, go to www.digest.net

Alfa club newsletters and websites. For almost anything you need for an Alfa, especially in the U.S. where Alfas are not currently sold, joining the national or a local Alfa club makes a lot of sense. You'll get the newsletter, meet friends, find repair and parts places, and make connections on cars for sale. This is how I learn of most of the Berlinas for sale I hear about. In the U.S., check http://www.aroc-usa.org/owner.htm for the national Alfa Romeo Owners Club or http://www.overheardcams.org/ for the Bay-Area-centered Alfa Romeo Association (not affiliated with AROC). Many local clubs have websites that feature Alfa classified ads.

eBay. A fair number of Berlinas, and Berlina/Alfa parts, come up for sale on eBay periodically. Prices can be all over the map, a particular car may not necessarily be in your area, and it may be difficult to judge the condition of the car from the posting. But six or eight Berlinas show up per year, so it's a good resource.

Berlina Register website. I post only Berlina- and Giulia-sedan-related ads on the Berlina website, so it's a useful place to look (www.berlinaregister.com). Realistically, not that many cars get listed there, and as with eBay, they can be anywhere in the world.

Classified newspaper ads. Free or cheap weekly or monthly "Pennysaver" or "Recycler" type classified newspapers often seem to feature Berlina, typically in poor condition and at low prices. Regular daily newspapers are less likely to have Berlinas, but they do show up. If you really want to find a Berlina, be diligent and keep searching with each new edition. Most big daily and weekly papers put their classified ads on the internet too.

Word of mouth. Mention your interest in a Berlina in your Alfa and other special-interest car circles, and you'll be surprised what you hear back. Any number of Berlinas for sale have found their way to me, just because everyone knows I'm into them. If you are too, and people know it, you'll hear about them. Many Alfa nuts have a Berlina in their past somewhere.

Classic car magazine ads. In the U.S., probably the only magazines likely to feature a Berlina for sale other than Alfa club newsletters are Sports Car Market and Hemmings. SCM tends toward the expensive cars, which rules out most Berlinas. I've seen them in Hemmings from time to time. In other countries, classic car magazines are more likely to have Berlinas. England has a half dozen such magazines.

Classic car dealers. A few sports car and classic car dealers sell Berlinas. Typically you will find these cars only if the dealer is in your area, or if the dealer has a website and you stumble across a car there. This is more common in Europe, where Berlinas are in better condition and therefore worth more money, than in the U.S.

Online search engines. Searching for a Berlina for sale on the web is likely not to be real fruitful. You certainly can search for "Berlina" and "for sale" in Yahoo or Google, and maybe find something, and Yahoo and others feature automotive classified ads. I've never found a Berlina this way though.

Snoop around. It may sound silly, but you'd be amazed what kinds of cars are sitting around in people's farms, vacant lots, driveways, backyards, and garages. Keep your eyes open, especially when you're off your normal beaten path. I've stumbled across and bought more than one interesting car this way, by keeping my eyes open, and leaving a note on a car that interested me.

Berlina Monthly Tips -- Selling a Berlina (April 2002)

Many articles have been written about how to buy a car, giving useful advice on inspection, negotiation, and the like. But I haven't seen many articles on how to sell a car, and having recently sold a few Alfas, I thought I'd list a few tips I learned. Most of this is common sense, but it's easy to forget. Most of my experience is in 60s and 70s Alfas, particularly Giulias, Berlinas, and GTVs, so some of this advice may be inapplicable to cars at the higher end of the scale such as mint condition 164s.

1. Get the car in shape before you advertise it. Before you even place the ad, make sure the car is in a condition to sell. If the car is a complete, running, usable car, make sure it's washed, waxed, cleaned out, and as presentable as possible. It's amazing what a polish job can do to tired paint; I just sold a maroon 1974 Berlina that had been sitting for five years before I got it. My son and I spent a day with polishing compound and wax on the paint, which had gone flat and had white oxidation all over the flat surfaces, and it looked like an utterly different car afterward. It's probably a good idea to deal with minor tuneup items that can be an annoyance or embarrassment, such as pitted points or fouled spark plugs, before the first buyer comes to look. You don't want to have to make a lot of excuses for little failings on the car.

Stand back and be objective about your car, which can be difficult. It may be helpful to ask a third party to give a frank assessment to you of your cart. A 1969 Berlina I sold in 1999 had a persistent backfire on deceleration, that I frankly hadn't noticed, because I was so used to it from years of owning the car. But the first two serious lookers both mentioned it. A Giulietta Sprint I sold a couple years ago needed a new set of spark plugs, for easier starting; I should have changed them.

Project cars or cars with disclosed problems are the exception. If you are selling a car with an obvious blown head gasket, you probably don't want to go to the trouble of fixing it.

2. Write a comprehensible, truthful ad. Be straightforward and brief in your ad, mentioning at least the model, year, condition, and price. More information is helpful, but can get expensive in classified ads you have to pay for. On most older Alfas, there is no need to say "4-cylinder" or "5-speed," as that will be true for all cars. Saying "or best offer" or "price reduced" generally indicates to buyers that you really want to sell the car. Peter Egan had a good column on deciphering the language of auto classified ads in the May 1999 Road & Track.

3. Be realistic about the price. Setting a price is the hardest part of selling a car. Especially with unusual cars such as Alfas, it is hard to get a sense of what the market value, if any, of a particular model is, because there may be no other recent sales of comparable cars in the United States to compare to. Some people think an old Alfa has a high value just because it's old and because it's an Alfa, but that's not necessarily so. There are sources for figuring a price, including Hemming's Motor News ads, Alfa club newsletter ads, the Berlina Register newsletters, Internet ads, and local newspaper ads, but there are lots of variables in all this, plus these ads only tell you what people are asking, not what they are actually getting, for their cars. I first asked $4,000 for my 1969 Berlina, but ultimately sold it for $2,500 six months later; I first asked $5,000 for my Giulietta Sprint, but sold it for $2,950. The week my Berlina's ad was in the San Francisco Chronicle, there was a Duetto advertised for $22,000. I cannot imagine that seller received even one phone call at that price. In my experience, a large percentage of Alfa nuts, including me, are cheapskates.

Unless you got real lucky (such as buying a former Trans Am GTA in 1978 for $1,200; don't laugh, I had the chance and passed it up) or got your Alfa for free and didn't have to spend any money on it, you are probably not going to "make money" out of your Alfa. And basing the price of your car on "what you have in it" is probably a poor measure.

If you need to sell the car, your price expectation will diminish over time. If your price is too high or your car is in poor condition for its price, you are likely to become frustrated and emotional about the whole thing. And there often comes a point where you have some type of "watershed" experience with the car (especially a car in so-so condition) when you suddenly give up hope and just want to sell the damn thing for basically whatever you can get. The thing that alienated me enough from a 1979 Sport Sedan to get really serious about selling it was when someone tried, but failed, to steal the radio one night. I repaired the radio and the dash, but my emotional connection to the car had been severed, and after that I just wanted it out of there. As we all know, buying and selling cars is not a rational exercise.

I think there are some cars, especially old Alfas, that have no value at all (or a negative value), and cannot even be given away. I once looked at an Alfetta GT that had faded paint, rust, broken windows, ruined dash, ruined seats, expired license, and hadn't been driven in years. The car was advertised for a few hundred dollars, and it may have been worth that much to the right person as a parts car, but as a whole car, I think it had a negative value. It would have to be dragged out a backyard and towed home, couldn't easily be registered, and every system probably needed major repairs. The seller eventually offered it to me for free, but I didn't want it. Sadly, cars like this should probably be parted out or go to Alfa Parts Exchange.

Similarly, unloved Alfa models such as Berlinas, Alfettas, and late 70's Spiders may have a hard time moving out of your driveway and into someone else's. If there is no one who wants a particular model, there isn't going to be a buyer, no matter how low the price. And even for a desirable car, if the condition is too poor or the project too daunting, no one may want it, even for free. This was almost the case with my Giulietta Sprint, which was a complete driveable car, but needed exterior and interior work; nobody wanted to commit to that much of a project. And even for modern Alfas, the fact that there are no Alfa dealers in the US, and new Alfas are not sold here any longer, means the average car buyer is not going to take a chance on an orphan car. In my experience, Alfas are sold almost exclusively to Alfa nuts.

4. Be realistic and candid about the condition of the car. Nothing is more disappointing than showing up to look at a car and finding its condition not as described. Be candid; you'll be happier in the long run. Most faults will become apparent to a buyer, regardless of how you try to hide them, especially if the buyer has the car inspected by an Alfa mechanic. Granted, everyone has their own standard to measure a car's condition; what is "terminal rust" to you might be "surface rust" to me. Try to be objective and honest, and have a friend give you an opinion of your car.

There are some fine distinctions to be made here. A private party seller doesn't really have any obligation to disclose anything about a car, though affirmative fraud is illegal. The time-honored rule of caveat emptor prevails. At the same time, I personally feel some obligation to reveal significant problems that may not be obvious (especially if safety-related) like impending brake failure. And with oddball cars like Alfas, a lot of common perceived "problems" are going to fall into the "they all do that" category. More subjective problems, like old accident damage competently repaired, may be up to the buyer to discover. This is why buyers have pre-purchase inspections, though realistically, the seller knows a lot more about the car than a mechanic is going to discover in 45 minutes. How much you reveal in this area is a function of your moral predisposition.

5. Remain flexible and be patient about showing the car to prospective buyers. In my experience, you'll never know what to expect in advertising a car. People will call, commit to come see the car, and then you'll never hear from them again. People will call and schedule an appointment, then reschedule, then reschedule again. People will ask you to bring the car to their location, often hundreds of miles away. Stay cool and go with the flow. People who flake, or cannot be bothered to come to your house to look at the car, are not serious buyers. Those who are really interested will show up.

6. Know whether you're firm or flexible on price and terms. Have your price and negotiation strategy worked out ahead of time. If you are firm on your price, that probably means you don't particularly need to sell the car. That's fine, but be mindful of it. If you have a starting price, and a lower price below which you will not go, figure that all out ahead of time, so that if a buyer makes an offer, you don't have to decide on the spot what your position is. There are many negotiation techniques, none of which I'm good at, so I won't go into any of them.

7. Don't make informal commitments. Unless you're selling to a friend or family member whom you trust completely, don't commit to any deal without getting it in writing and getting some form of monetary commitment. Up-front money tells you the buyer is serious, and gives you some recourse if the buyer backs out. If someone wants to buy the car, but can't pay the full price in cash right then, I personally think it's best to get some significant amount of cash (maybe 10 percent) as a downpayment at that time, which holds the car til they show up with the rest of the money in an acceptable form (cash, money order, personal check, whatever). It may be worthwhile to make the downpayment nonrefundable, just to make sure they don't try to back out later. And on your side of it, once you've committed to a particular buyer and agreed to specific terms, it's not OK to back out of that deal and go with another if someone comes along later with a better offer. A contract is a contract.

Long distance deals, especially with people who have not seen the car in person, present the greatest risk. Photos, oral descriptions, and videos cannot adequately convey all there is to know about a car. I had a firm commitment for my 1969 Berlina from a guy in Portland. He had seen photos of the car and we had talked many times by phone about it, and I believe I had been candid about its strengths and weaknesses. We agreed on a price, and he flew down the next week to pick up the car. Once he saw the car, he didn't like it and backed out. He didn't have a specific objection, just a general dissatisfaction that the car was not as nice as he expected. So he went home. It was certainly his right to feel that way, but we had already agreed that he was going to buy the car for a fixed price. Not having gotten some kind of financial commitment out of him ahead of time, there was nothing I could do; I couldn't make him take the car and give me my money. In the time between our agreement and when he picked up the car, I had turned away two other buyers, who bought other cars in the interim. I realized that this arrangement was a bad idea, and I won't do it again. I probably won't sell an Alfa other than to a local buyer again.

8. There is a buyer for every car. As in Item 5 above, it's important to remain patient while selling a specialty car. You may have any number of lookers, but you need only one buyer. My wife thinks I'm too impatient in these things, and thinks that if you set the right price and just wait, eventually you'll find that one buyer who is looking for your car. And experience has proven her pretty much to be right. I had 25 phone calls for my project Giulietta Sprint, and about 10 people actually looked at the car. Of those 10, not one in the first two weeks of looking made even an insultingly low offer; none wanted the car at any price. But out of the blue, someone I had talked to months before found that the similar project Sprint he'd previously bought was too rusty to restore, and we worked out a deal in a matter of hours. Anything can happen.

Berlina Monthly Tips -- Inspection Tips (January 2002)

I've looked at a bunch of Berlinas and Giulia sedans for sale in the last year (and bought a few of them), and have learned a few common things to look for when inspecting a potential purchase. These items are nothing really out of the ordinary for an old Alfa, but are worth keeping in mind.

Body. The first thing to be sure of in looking at a Berlina, other than one you are buying for parts, is the condition of the body. Berlinas rust badly if not cared for well, and will frequently also show accident damage. Here are common places to examine:

1. Rust around windshield. The cowl area and wiper covers will commonly be rusted, and US 2000 Berlinas with glued-in windshields will frequently be very rusty across the top, at the join with the roof. Sufficient rust will allow major water leaks into the interior, and this is a difficult area to fix, requiring the windshield to be removed to be done right. Glued-in windshields are a different size from early gasket windshields, and are no longer available new. The cowl around the rear window car get rusty too.

2. Broken windshields. For some reason, most of the US 2000 Berlinas I've seen in the last two years all have had cracked windshields. I don't know the reason for this, other than excessive flexing of the body, or possibly poor installation. As mentioned above, glued-in windshields are not available new. The smaller gasketed windshield will fit in the opening, if you buy a 1750 Berlina/Giulia sedan gasket. However, you also need the stainless trim, which is not available new.

3. Rust in fenders, sills, wheel wells, and door bottoms. On US cars, these are the most common rust areas after the windshield area. These four areas are common rust traps and are not major problems to fix ordinarily, unless the car is very bad.

4. Steering box area. Berlinas seems to have more problems with the condition of the chassis in the steering box attachment area more than other Alfas. This can be due to rust, accident repair, or just wear and tear on the metal, which is really too thin for the intended job. Often the sheetmetal is torn and needs patching and welding to make the steering box mount safe and strong.

5. Poor accident repair. Berlinas, like other Alfas, seem to get rear-ended a lot. This means the rear part of the body will often have been repaired. Check the condition of the inside of the rear wheel wells, the trunk floor, the rear panel, and the inside rear fenders for quality of repair. Accident repair is not necessarily a bad sign, but poorly done repair with lots of Bondo and poorly fitted patch panels is not what you hope to see. Also check the door posts and central pillar area for evidence of side impacts, or crashes that make the doors fit poorly.

6. Seat mounting. Often, the mounting tracks and attachment bolts for the front seats will be messed up in some way. If the seat tracks are bent, it can prevent sliding the seat far enough forward to gain access to the rear mounting bolts. And if the mounting nuts plates in the floor are torn loose, the attaching bolts will just spin without actually unthreading.

Trim and Interior. Replacing missing trim and sorting out a worn or incomplete interior is generally the hardest thing to do on a Berlina. Trim and interior parts are mostly not common to other Alfas of the period, while mechanical parts are common and interchangeable. And because Berlinas have such a low value, you don't commonly find them in the Alfa junkyards, so sourcing used parts is difficult. For example, it's very hard to find dashes, seats, door panels, bumpers, grilles, and other Berlina-specific parts in good used condition. Sometimes you have to buy a whole car to get the parts you need.

The Cost to Fix Things. It always seems attractive to buy a cheap old Alfa and fix it up. But unless you can do the repair work yourself, you usually end up spending more, sometimes a lot more, than if you'd bought a nice car in the first place for slightly more money. This seems more true of Berlinas than many other cars, due to the narrow value range between a nice car and a poor one.

For example, just to replace a headliner, at California prices you can figure on $175 for the headliner upholstery work, $100 for each of the front and rear window seals, usually $100 each per front and rear window labor to replace the glass, at least $300 if you break the windshield on removal and have to replace it, and at least $100 for new door seals that have to be removed and replaced (and invariably are in poor condition and tear on removal). Figure on a minimum of $500 to redo a Berlina headliner, if you're really lucky and can reuse some of these parts.

For another example, at California labor rates, replacing a water pump is at least $500 parts and labor, and a head gasket and valve job is at least $1,200. An engine rebuild from a reputable Alfa shop is in the range of $3,500, and a clutch job is typically around $500. These are all relatively huge expenses for Berlinas, that frequently cost in the range of $500 to $1,000 for a whole running car in the western US.

So unless you can do all your own work, don't assume you'll come out ahead buying a cheap car. There are good reasons to buy cheap cars, such as saving them from the scrapyard, enjoying doing the work yourself, learning to work on an Alfa, spending money a little at a time, rather than all at once, and just the pure love of cheap old Alfas. I'm guilty of all these. But if you don't want to get your hands real dirty, it's better to wait and buy the best car you can afford.

Finding the Right Car for You. There aren't a lot of Berlinas for sale, compared to Spiders, GTVs, and "real" cars, so you may wait awhile for the right car. But it's best to wait for the car that suits your budget, interest, and abilities, rather than buying the first Berlina that comes along, thinking you'll never see another one for sale. At least in the western US, and it also seems true of western Europe and Australia, that there are enough cars around that you can bide your time and find what suits you, whether a really nice example, or a cheap project car. I've seen at least 10 Berlinas for sale in California in the last year. You'll get to hate a project car fast if it you're not the kind of person for such a project. The expense and never-ending tasks will wear you down and make you wish you'd bought something nicer.

Conversely, there have been some very expensive Berlinas offered lately, so don't pay too much for your budget either. I know of a 1969 Berlina that sold for almost $7,000 recently, then immediately needed a paint job and interior. So now that's a $10,000 Berlina, which doesn't make sense to me. To each his or her own.

Take a Checklist When You Look at a Car. It's easy to get caught up in the emotional appeal of a Berlina, especially a nice one, so it's important to have some way to remain objective and to check everything you want to check on a car you're thinking of buying. So make up a checklist with things to look check, and keep referring to it during your inspection. There should be different checklist sections for body, interior, completeness of trim, engine, drivetrain, brakes, etc. Be systematic and objective. Things to absolutely check for are (1) rust in the usual places, (2) cracked windshield, (3) poor accident repair, (4) completeness of trim and interior, (5) engine compression, (6) head gasket condition and water pump condition, and (7) condition of clutch, gearbox synchros, and rear end gears.

As you get experience looking at cars, you'll learn what tends to be wrong with them, and know what to look for. Take notes, and photographs, so you can compare cars over time. You'll be surprised how much the same conditions come up over and over, and how much you learn.



Copyright © 1997 by Andrew D. Watry
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